Before the sun fully set, Michael Schneider had harvested two deer and was still going to make it home for dinner.
An avid hunter, the 36-year-old Grimes native has taken part in the urban bow hunting season since 2008. He has a farm in Lucas County, but the hour-long commute means he has to plan on a whole day of hunting.
“This is five minutes from home,” he said while sitting in a tree stand overlooking an Urbandale neighborhood.“It’s a great opportunity if you like to be out in the wild and like to hunt five minutes from your house.”
Officer Andrew Dobbins with the Urbandale Police Department oversees the program, which began in 1998 because of an overpopulation of deer in the city.
Despite initial public hesitation, the department says there have been no safety incidents related to the program since it began. Hunters must apply for the urban bow hunt and pass a safety and a bow hunter safety course to be eligible.
Twelve hunters are working with the city this year, according to Dobbins, and each is responsible to find the land that they are going to hunt.
Most hunters like Schneider hunt multiple properties and rely mostly on word of mouth to find new ones.
“Once one person has a positive experience, it’s easier to get their neighbors on board,” Schneider said.
Mark Tuttle has lived in his home on the west side of Urbandale for 33 years and has been trying to cultivate a garden there for just about as long.
“Deer just decimate that stuff,” Tuttle said of the deer eating his plants. “They will eat anything.”
He tried fences, which worked all right, but when Michael Schneider knocked on his door a year ago and asked to hunt is property, he said yes.
Working as a pair, Schneider often hunts with Jasen Hammer, 27, of Grimes. The two share properties — as well as who gets the first shot on the next deer.
This was Jasen’s day.
An hour passed as the hunters sat camouflaged in a tree overlooking the backyard landmarks of a suburban neighborhood.
“A lot of times when you hear a car honk and you’re urban hunting, it means that a deer is trying to cross the road,” Schneider said, “So it’s kind of a warning for us to turn and look toward the road. There could be deer coming that way.”
A flash of white in an adjacent field and both hunters grabbed their rangefinders to see how many deer there were.
“Five, and they are coming this way,” whispered Schneider excitedly.
The quiet banter and phones were quickly tucked away as the five deer grazed their way toward Schneider and Hammer.
Urban hunt rules stipulate shots must be taken from no more than 25 yards away and from an elevation of at least six feet.
Hammer nocked an arrow and drew back with the deer now well within the 25-yard zone. A deep breath and a moment later, the arrow landed on its target, as Hammer traced its retreat with his eyes.
Not to be outdone, Schneider landed a shot on another doe just seconds later.
High-fives and fist bumps mirrored the adrenaline levels as they watched the deer fall for easy retrieval later on.
Last season, the urban hunt in Urbandale resulted in 30 deer harvested, down from more than 90 in 2010-11.
Although many factors could be the cause of that decline, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has contracted for an aerial deer population survey to be done this year after seeing a decline in years past.
“One thing which has hurt the program harvests over the past couple of years is the lack of local HUSH lockers,” Dobbins said.
The HUSH, or Help Us Stop Hunger program, allows hunters to donate harvested deer to lockers which then in turn process the meat and give it to food pantries.
“We do have hunters who have provided deer to church groups and families who have requested one, but the lack of local HUSH lockers have definitely made an impact on harvest numbers,” Dobbins said.
Sixty six deceased deer were picked up along the roadside by Urbandale Public Works in 2016, most of which they attribute to deer/vehicle encounters.
Twenty years ago, Mark Tuttle hit a deer and believes hunting will help reduce the chance of that happening again.
“We need to control the population,” Schneider said. ”If we can lower the car/deer accidents or lower the interactions people have, it’s a win-win.”
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